Staff retention: Part 3 - We're engaged

'Employee engagement' is management jargon, but it can do a lot of good for both your business and your people, says Childbase Partnership regional director Sarah Rotundo

There is plenty of research showing that making employees happy is good for business. Engaged employees - those who are personally attached to their work - tend to stay. Where disengagement is high, this can mean a labour turnover of over 50 per cent more than in workplaces where employees are engaged.

According to the influential Macleod Report from 2009, Engaging for Success, engaged employees are 87 per cent less likely to leave than disengaged. This alone should spark a light bulb moment in managers everywhere - before even taking into account additional benefits such as higher productivity (which goes up by nearly a fifth) an increase of profitability by 12 per cent and a reduction in sick days.

So what exactly is employee engagement? The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development says it incorporates factors such as an employee's commitment to the organisation, their job satisfaction, their desire to go 'the extra mile', the extent to which they feel valued, and their passion for their work. All of these factors are created by the workplace. So a neat definition, which comes from David MacLeod, author of the aforementioned report into employee engagement, could be: 'How we create the conditions in which employees offer more of their capability and potential'.

Managers can assess the current state of play by considering each member of their team. In my experience, fully engaged people are the ones who are heavily involved and driving innovation and the organisation forward, and it is hard for these fully engaged employees to leave. One step down are engaged employees: not the same as fully engaged, but not necessarily disengaged; while they add value, it would be relatively easy for them to leave. Then there are disengaged staff: those who are unhappy and will certainly leave. At the bottom end of the scale are the actively disengaged, who won't just leave themselves but who will encourage others to do so too.

The effects of disengagement on staff can be far-reaching: 54 per cent of the 'actively disengaged' say their work lives are having a negative effect on their physical health, according to the Macleod Report.

So what's average? Sadly, most employees are not fully engaged. Dale Carnegie Training (named after its founder, the author of How to Win Friends and Influence People) found in 2013 that the number of 'fully engaged' employees was only 29 per cent. Think of all that wasted potential. 'Disengaged' employees came out at 26 per cent (and it is worth noting that the number one reason for this was 'relationship with immediate supervisor' - see part 2 of this series, on leadership, for more on this).

Communicate communicate communicate

It is easy to see how important it is for organisations to create the right conditions to fully engage their employees. But how can we help an employee move into full engagement?

Lines of communication are crucial. An organisation that has leaders who truly encourage feedback both up and down the management line has a head start here.

Simple ways of achieving feedback can be through reflective practice sessions at staff meetings, incorporating 360-degree reviews into supervisions and appraisals, ideas and innovation schemes, staff surveys, having staff representatives, sending out regular staff newsletters and creating opportunities where staff can talk directly to leaders both formally and informally.

Throughout these channels, it is vital for leaders to understand the importance of communicating openly and honestly, earning trust, and knowing that it is okay to share challenging messages. It is how these messages are shared that matters most.

Using different communication channels can help to engage different personality types. One-to-one meetings will benefit some, and group meetings will benefit others; newsletters and social networks can play a part in keeping employees informed.

Within these various channels, it is useful to create and use a shared organisatio- nal language. This is something that staff naturally do for children - for example, promoting positive behaviour by using shared language to ensure that their communication is consistent and has the best possible impact.

Having consistent communication styles is of no less importance for staff. It is a way for leaders and teams to ensure that their communications promote respect and engagement, and achieve the possible impact.

A key message to communicate and discuss regularly with staff is the vision and values of the organisation. Knowing what the vision is helps staff to understand where the organisation is heading, and to understand what the future holds and why they are doing certain things.

For example, understanding that profitability enables reinvestment in new books or an update for an outdoor area is far more engaging for a member of staff than knowing that the budget has been achieved. In this way, you can make your employees advocates: staff who are proud of what the organisation does, and will want to be part of it moving forward.

Well-being and fun

Aside from communication, the approach to employee well-being is very important for engagement. What this really boils down to whether staff feel that the person and place that they work for cares about them. Looking after employee well-being can take many simple forms and doesn't have to be costly.

Examples of this could include a manager ensuring that the workload is distributed fairly or the stripping out of unnecessary paperwork. It can be giving staff time to attend training and follow their continuing professiional development plans. It could be recognising that a practitioner is affected by a particularly challenging parent or child and needs a cup of tea and a chat. It can be using group times to solve problems together, sending an individual home half an hour early for some time to recharge, or engaging the team in a challenge to get fit, or drink more water during the day. Showing you care can have a huge impact.

What better place to have fun than when working with children? Creating a culture in which it is okay to have fun and to laugh can pay dividends.

There is no reason why excellence can't be achieved at the same time, providing boundaries are in place. Reward and recognition is also another key driver for engagement (see the upcoming part 4 of this series for more on this topic).

Understanding the importance of employee engagement is the first step. The next step could be measuring it and giving yourself the tools to act.

Staff surveys can be an excellent way to help focus your organisation on engagement, measure success and gain external accreditation. However, these types of surveys do come with a health warning - organisations need to be careful that they don't just become engaging at survey time, or create a culture gap between what they say they are and what they actually are. Just as achieving quality isn't a task to be undertaken impress Ofsted, engagement isn't a once-a-year exercise. It is a way of working.

Part 4 in the series (15-28 June) will focus on how reward and recognition can feed into successful employment engagement.

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